Amman

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Amman is the capital and largest city of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan (population c. 2.1 million). Amman forms a great base for exploring the country and does, despite popular belief, hold a few items of interest to the traveler. The city is generally well-appointed for the traveler, reasonably well-organized, and the people are very friendly. Although not seen as much when in the air over Amman, the city holds many surprises for the visitor. Anything can be found in Amman if one asks. Visit Amman's Roman Amphitheatre or study in the University of Jordan or stay in a luxurious hotel. Shopping malls are abundant in Jordan. With new construction in Abdali, in a few years the high-end traveler could eat in the most high-end restaurant, study in the American University of Jordan, stay in a five star hotel or shop in massive malls, all a few metres from one another. Much less is being done to cater to the budget traveler, although urban beautification is going on (as of early 2011) in the city centre (old town), which is being cleaned up and made more pedestrian-friendly. Amman is experiencing a massive (some would say: reckless) change from a quiet sleepy village to a bustling metropolis, some of whose neighbourhoods seem hell-bent on wanting to imitate Dubai. Amman's roads have a reputation of being very steep and narrow in some of the underdeveloped parts of the city but now the city has state of the art highways and paved avenues. The steep terrain and heavy traffic remains challenging for pedestrians and for the rare cyclist. New resorts and hotels dot the city and there are many things for the traveler to see and do. Use Amman as a staging point for travels to nearby cities and settlements in Jordan. (less...) (more...)

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Points of Interest in Amman

Although the capital of a diverse kingdom, Amman is not what one would call "packed" with things to see, making it a great gateway to explorations further afield. Even so, the city does hold a few items of historical and cultural interest (allow maximum 2 days to see them).

  • the Roman Theatre. Entrance of JD1 also covers the folklore museum and popular culture museum.
  • a Roman-era Nymphaeum
  • an Ammonite-era watchtower
  • the Citadel (Jabal al-Qal'a) - located in the centre of both ancient and modern Amman.
    • the Temple of Herakles - Roman period remains
    • the Byzantine Church - dating to the 5th-6th centuries
    • the Umayyad Palace - situated in the northern portion of the Citadel, entrance JD2. Offers a great view of Amman.
    • the National Archaeological Museum - situated on the Citadel, the museum is a small but interesting collection of antiquities from all over Jordan. Fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls which used to be housed here are now being transferred to the new National Museum of Jordan.
  • Darat al Funun or 'small house of the arts' in Jabal el Weibdeh, overlooking the heart of Amman, is housed in three adjacent villas from the 1920s (and the remains of a sixth-century Byzantine church built over a Roman Temple), it has a permanent collection and also holds changing exhibitions. In the same area there are other small art galleries and the Jordan National Gallery of Fine Arts.
  • Rainbow St. near the 1st Circle in Jabal Amman is an interesting area to walk around and explore, it is named after the old Rainbow Cinema which is now out of use, but the area has been recently experiencing a revival with many of the old houses being restored and put into use, in the area there are some cafes and bars including Books@cafe and Wild Jordan both with great views, a Hammam, the Royal Film Commission which sometimes holds outdoor screenings on its patio and some interesting small shops. Across the street from the British Council on Rainbow St., there is the refreshing Turtle Green Tea Bar where everything is in English and you can borrow a laptop to access the internet while enjoying your snack.

The cultural scene in Amman has seen some increased activities, notably cultural centers and clubs such as Makan House, Al Balad Theater, the Amman Filmmakers Cooperative, Remall, and Zara gallery. Around the 1st of September the Jordan Short Film Festival takes place.

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About Amman

Background

A city built of white stone, Amman's growth has skyrocketed since it was made the capital of Trans-Jordan in the early 1920s, but especially after the 1948 and 1967 wars with Israel when hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees settled. Another wave arrived after the second Iraq war, with Iraqi refugees forming the majority of newcomers.

Its history, however, goes back many millennia. The settlement mentioned in the Bible as Rabbath Ammon was the capital of the Ammonites, which later fell to the Assyrians. It was dominated briefly by the Nabataeans before it became a great Roman trade center and was renamed Philadelphia. After the Islamic conquests, Amman became part of the Muslim empire, until the Ottomans were forced out by the Allies, with the help of the Hashimites, who formed a monarchy that continues to rule until the present.

Today, West Amman is a lively, modern city. The eastern part of the city, where the majority of Amman's residents live, is predominantly the residential area of the working class and is much older than the west. While possessing few sites itself, Amman makes a comfortable base from which to explore the northwestern parts of the country.

Amman is a very diverse city. Palestinian, Iraqi, Circassian, Armenian,and many other ethnic groups reside in Amman. Amman was damaged because of the events of Black September but the city was rebuilt. Amman never stops growing. The city went from 20,000 inhabitants to more than 2 million people in less than a century partly because of massive influxes of refugees from Palestine and Iraq.

Despite the common assertion that most Jordanians understand English, that knowledge is quite limited. Charmingly, the most commonly known English phrase seems to be "Welcome to Jordan". The only non-Arabic language used in signposting is English, and you will find "Tourist Police" near the major monuments. It never hurts to know a few useful phrases and come prepared with a translation book, or to have the names and addresses of places you are going written in Arabic for use with a taxi driver.

Activities

It is highly advisable to see the sunset from the view point near the Citadel. But pay also your attention to the time of the muezzin call. If you listen to it from the view point, where the whole city lies before you, you get the unforgettable acoustic impression.

Due to accelerated growth the past several decades, the styles of living differs considerably as one travels from east to west throughout Amman. Visitors desiring to experience "Old Amman" should explore the central downtown, or Balad, which features numerous souqs, shops, and street vendors.

Besides touring the city, shopping is also advisible for the traveler. The City Mall is your best bet. The older and huge Mecca Mall aimed at women (walking distance from City Mall), the Abdoun Mall (also aimed at women), and the Plaza Mall are all large shopping centers scattered across Amman; you may also want to check out "Sharia'a Al Wakalat" (Brands Street).

For night clubs and bars visit the cosmopolitan West Amman where many Western and American franchises operate here. The nightlife in Amman is not as vibrant as other Middle Eastern cities like Beirut or Tel Aviv, however, there are a few clubs and bars in Amman.

Abdali, a section of downtown Amman, is being transformed into a modern center for tourists and natives alike. The plan includes a broad pedestrian boulevard where visitors can shop, eat, or do numerous other activities. New office buildings and residential hi-rises are being constructed. "New Abdali" should have been completed by 2010, but was still a large construction site as of early 2011.

Food

Amman features many different styles of restaurants, from traditional Middle Eastern fare to more familiar Western fast food and franchises. Prices range from ultra-cheap to moderate, depending on one's taste buds. For those on a budget, Arabic food is very affordable and can be obtained everywhere.

Arabic food generally consists of several general basic groups. Meat dishes will generally consist of lamb or chicken; beef is more rare and pork is never offered. Shwarma, which is cooked lamb meat with a special sauce rolled in piece of flat bread, is a local favorite. Rice and flat bread are typical sides to any meal. Jordan's speciality, mansaf, is a delicious lamb and rice meal, typically eaten with one's hands. Arabs serve plenty of cucumbers and tomatoes, many times accompanied by a plain white yoghurt condiment. Another favorite is chick pea-based foods such as falafel, hummus, and fuul. One of Amman's most famous local foods restaurant is Hashem, located in down-town Amman and you can have a lunch or dinner there for no more than 1.500 JD which is very low compared to other restaurants in Amman. This restaurant is one of the favourites of the Royal family and you will see a lot of photographs of the Royal family of Jordan dining at this restaurant. Nearby, there is Habeebah, which serves traditional east Mediterranean sweets such as baklava, but is most famous for serving a traditional dessert known as knafeh nabelseyyeh in reference to its origin from the Palestinian city of Nables.

The allegedly best shawerma in Amman is found in the street-side kiosk called Shawermat Reem, at the 2nd Circle. It is very famous and there are even lines at 2 a.m. It is a must to eat from this place and is very cheap.

Lebnani snack is a great place to eat Middle Eastern sandwiches, delicious ice cream and cocktails.

  • La Maison Verte - impressive French restaurant, with excellent food and excellent ambience. A must go to place. Moderate to pricey, but it's worth it; the atmosphere alone is worth it, it's quite fancy yet very cozy. Their house specialities include "Entrecote", various steaks and a variety of sea food.
  • Levant is a very comfortable restaurant with excellent service, excellent English and excellent food. They serve "gourmet" Arabic food, which means fresh local ingredients in surprising and delicious combinations. For more information you can view their website(http://www.levantjo.com/). They are located in Jabal Amman, 3rd Circle Behind Le Royal Hotel, Tel : 46 28 948
  • Cantaloupe - is a fairly trendy restaurant and cocktail bar with terrace impressively overlooking the city. Salads and fish are good, steaks are excellent. Regional and local wines are remarkably good. Service is excellent and unobtrusive. A little loud as the evening progresses.

Contact details: 10 Rainbow Street, 1 Juqa Street Jabal Amman Mobile: +962 7777 333 33 Telefax: +962 6 46 56 561

  • Fakhr al Din 962 6 4652399. 40 Taha Hussein, st Jabal. - when going from 1st to 2nd circle, turn right after the Iraqi embassy. Following that, turn right at the end of this street, go past the lot on your left and then turn left again. "Fakhr al Din" is written in Arabic on the wall of last building on the block (فخر الدين). A real classical of Amman's Lebanese-oriented restaurant. Quite pricey but worth it, especially if you're in the terrace on a warm evening. For local wine, try their "Gerasa" red wine. Reservation highly advised. Cost is around 15 to 30jd for a complete meal. Great place, but beware of waiters who deliver unordered food to your table. Don't accept anything you don't order.
  • Kan Zaman - impressive medieval castle on a hilltop turned into a beautiful restaurant. The place is worth the visit. The food is pretty basic but ok. Ask for their local "Kan Zaman" red wine. Hopefully, the prices are not proportional to the size of the hall. It's a bit difficult to get there as it is around 10 km south of amman. On the highway to the airport, you'll see a sign. Leave the highway, go under the bridge and follow the small road.
  • Noodasia - my treat. Nothing to do with Arabic food though, as the menu handles the whole map of Asia, from Thailand to China, through Japan (good sushis) and Indonesia. Nice place, excellent service and good food for the money, but no alcohol served. It's located on Abdoun Circle, in front of the Big Fellow pub.
  • Books@Cafe - a beautiful old house turned into the then-first bookstore/internet/cafe. Opened in the year 2000 and a hot spot ever since. This cafe is on Rainbow street overlooking all of the old city (Balad) and has two wonderful terraces with the best views in Amman. Boasting a very funky interior in contrast with the classical exterior, this cafe offers lite fare, water pipes (argheeleh), wine, beer and the best pizza in Amman. Free wireless network and three internet terminals. A must see.
  • Popeyes - the best fast food restaurant in Amman. It serves the best fried chicken "cajun our way". But what makes it different than other fried chicken restaurants is its lovely mashed potatoes served with hot gravy sauce, makes you want to swim in it. Also they serve a creamy cushiony baked biscuits. A must go place.
  • Grappa (around the corner from Fakhr Al Din, close to 2. circle),  +962 463 8212, e-mail: grappamanager@jorest.com. Restaurant and lounge bar with great steaks and good wine. JD 10 for mains.
  • Hashem - Near the post office at King Faisal Street, where most of the budget hotels are located, you can ask most of the locals for directions to this cheap and famous local eatery. During meal times, the place is swarming with locals, who are there to eat a cheap and good meal of felafel, houmous and bread. Cost is only about 1.500 JD per person (for felafel, hommous, bread and tea).

And even if you can afford the above-mentioned, do not forget the good surprises coming from the countless shawarma outlets and other very cheap places.

  • Ameer. Located right across from the Hussien Mosque in the old city (Balad). Best place in Amman for falafel sandwiches. The sandwiches are cheap and delicious, 30 piasters. Ask for "shuta" (pronounced, shut-a, with the "a" as in "about", shuta means hot sauce) if you like it spicy. The falafel sandwiches come with french fries in them, tomatoes, parsley, onion, and some hummus. You can also ask for a "batata" sandwich (french fry sandwich), it is AMAZING! I always get one falafel sandwich and one bataba sandwich. It's the best!

Note: If you are a vegetarian, probably you will have to live on bread, felafel, fries, pita bread with hummus moutabal and salads. The salads are really tasty well marinated.

Drinks

Jordan's national beer is aptly called Petra beer, and there are many liquor shops and kiosks around Amman where you can find it. There are two types: 'black' and 'red', which have 8% and 10% alcohol percentage respectively. The red is usually slightly more expensive than the black, but you should expect to pay 2-2.5JD for a 500ml can at a shop. You will often find that bars prefer Amstel and other international brands and do not have Petra beer available.

The majority of Amman's pubs and night clubs can be found in West Amman.

  • Picadelli Pub (At Abdali Bus Station). Friendly place that serves alcohol, food, and complimentary snacks JD 3 for beer and wine.
  • La Calle - Located on Rainbow street, this multi-level bar is known for its half-price happy hour specials.
  • Jafra (Right across from the post office on King Faisal Street (near Hashems). It is upstairs from the DVD store of the same name.). A great spot right in the heart of the downtown area. It has an old, rustic feel to it with more young locals than tourists. They have a great selection of nargileh (water pipe) and the entire menu is reasonably priced. Expect to pay about 10JD for dinner, including an appetizer, kebab, fresh juice and nargileh. Live music starts at 9PM most night. There is another one near Paris circle in Jebel Al Webdeh

Traditional Cafes

Living in Amman, the main places people spend time during the evenings are hookah shops.

  • Al-Mawardi (Al-Mawardi Coffee and Hooka Cafe), 15, Siqilya St. (South of Al-Rabia circle),  +962 6 5532010. Coffee shop with traditional hookah, a wide selection of coffee and beverages. Offers Backgammon boards but no card games. JD 5 for a coffee and hookah.

Shopping

Amman has numerous antique dealers littered throughout the city. Those located in the western parts of the city will most likely be serviced by those with a competent grasp of the English language, but you run the risk of the items being a bit overpriced. For the more adventurous, some of the best tourist shopping can be done in downtown Amman (the Balad). Shopping in the Balad has a more primitive feel with shop after shop filled with wares and prices not always clearly marked and extremely negotiable.

Some interesting, original souvenir items that one may consider taking home are:

  • a keffiyeh, the traditional checkered headpiece of Jordanian men
  • an antique brass tea/coffee pot, distinctly Middle Eastern with its artistic etching and curved spout
  • olive wood carvings of various objects or figures can be purchase nearly everywhere
  • hand-crafted Jordanian daggers
  • hand-made Bedouin-style embroidered clothing

For the coffee lover, Amman's Starbucks locations (Swefieh, Abdoun, Taj Mall, City Mall, Mecca Mall) offer various mugs, tumblers, and to-go cups with distinctive Jordanian and Middle Eastern flair.

Those who crave gourmet coffee have a number of choices along Rainbow St. off of First Circle in Jabal Amman with other shops sprinkled throughout the city.

Alcoholic beverages (beer, wine, liquor, etc.), can be purchased in liquor stores across the city. Most are distinguishable by an advertisement for Amstel or some like beverage outside. There are also bars up and down Rainbow St. in Jabal Amman and throughout Abdoun. Drinking age is 18 but some bars/cafes might card you and admit 21+ customers only.

Shopping areas

  • The Balad An area of extreme frenzy 8AM-8PM. Take a walk through the narrow alleyways and corners and negotiate (haggle) the price with friendly vendors. A maze of streets with everything from a fruit market to spices, souvenirs, clothes, hardware. Drink a cool glass of Sugar Cane juice, watch the talented young men make artistic sand designs inside the glass bottles, go and smoke a shisha (hubbly bubbly) in any of the numerous street cafes. Enjoy some tasty falafel in the famous Hashem cafe, enjoy a mansaf dish at Jerusalem restaurant or a nice slice of tasty Kanafe from Habibeh sweets. Busy crowded streets with the real taste of Jordan. Visit the Husseini Mosque, Darwish Mosque, Roman Theatre, Citadel, spice markets, or if adventurous have a wander around the Friday Bird and animal market and the second hand market on a Friday morning. Walk to Rainbow street and enjoy a different side of Amman. Visit the Duke of Mukhyber's residence on the main street. Lot's of small cafes and roof terraces to enjoy the atmosphere. Visit the new Museum or catch a music recital or performance at the Hussain Culture Centre. Lot's to do in Wastel Ballad - Downtown Amman.
  • Souk - Afghani - Yemeni - and lots of others
  • Malls - City Mall is currently Jordan's biggest shopping mall. All the usual international brands are present. Mecca Mall is another big mall on Mecca Street (not far—about a 15-minute walk—from the City Mall; there's an ACE Hardware store). Baraka Mall- Sweifiyeh for those seeking indulgence and the odd 500$ to spare - all designer names. Majdi Mall for those with the common feel - located near University of Jordan towards Sweileh.
  • Wakalat Street A new street with big western stores. Mostly clothes, furniture, sport. A traffic free street with open areas for sitting and walking.
  • Sharia Rainbow - Rainbow Street - A cobblestone street just down from First Circle that is populated with small antique stores, clothing, restaurants, sheesha tea shops and the well-known Falafel al-Quds, reputedly the "best" Falafel in the Middle East (some Saudi's even financed the opening of one in Saudi Arabia). Further down the street you will find a small park that overlooks the city. Further still on a side street, during the warmer months, is a side-walk flea market. At the end of this street and down some stairs you will find Wild Jordan.

This article is based on Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike 3.0 Licensed text from the article Amman on Wikivoyage.

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